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Has COVID-19 Pandemic re-landscaped Architecture?

This is the “new norm” 

No handshakes, no handling of doors, no crowded spaces, more barriers, and increasing social distancing schematics both at work and leisure. There is much growing fear of contagion from the places we used to                                      eat to the public places we used to stroll in just the past couple of months.  This could well be a new definition for a new trail of a new society in this lifetime. To have just witnessed an instant extinction of all exhibition                              spaces, public gatherings, concerts, conferences, malls, all seemed an  impossibility  in our world of such technologically advanced civilization.  But the truth is, that impossibility just got real, and it’s globally in-synced!

The pain of this pandemic is real.  As we wait with resilience and optimism, “After the rain comes the sun.”  This too shall pass! For many of us, this quarantine also opportune inspiration by learning new skills, routined                                    exercises, and realising the importance of keeping in touch with our friends and family.  The pandemic has also globally shown us some of the best of human values and behaviours too – from volunteerism and restraint                                to tolerance. Most importantly it would have brought out a deep sense of gratitude for being alive and healthy. The immense realisation that we can get by with so little and that flamboyant act adds no meaning to life,                              that characterised  by the impermanence of human existence, could be the biggest lesson of all.

Here to stay?

True reflection today, is that we now live in uncertain yet fast-changing times. Since the pandemic, our society’s instant acceptance of the current technological  advancement and its effect on our daily routines now truly                            magnified. The advancement of technology coupled with Artificial Intelligence breakthroughs means endless possibilities in our newer world.  Reality check. 

“And as an architect, I cannot help but wonder  – what will artificial intelligence and machine learning do to architecture? What does this mean for architecture? No one knows what the future of architecture holds, but I will put forward two possible scenarios, one optimistic and the other a  rather pessimistic one.

Optimistically, we could revert back to nature, introducing mother nature back into buildings and to reconnect living lifestyles with our natural senses. Sensible architecture with materials that you want to touch, plants, or vegetations that we can smell and eat, birds, and bees that we could hear. Buildings that naturally adapt in the context of our well being and its surrounding environment. We could find our building sector detached from the notion of economic (even political) growth. Commercial towers and residential high rises will only become vastly spread away from town centres and creating that much of a wider spread of new real estates.

On the other end of the spectrum, architecture could one day become fictional dilution which will neither be part of any political system nor capital market. Our future   currency may not necessarily be in Ringgit, Dollars, Euros, nor Renminbi. Many studies show, that future currency is now data, and architecture will not be an exception. Theoretically, and should this be our way forward, building funds and capital investment will no longer be money.  It will be data! And our developers will no longer be investment groups or funds.  Future developers may just well be Google or Amazon, and the architects will no longer be Norman Forsters or Rem Koolhaus.  Such  scopes will only be championed  by Apple, Alibaba, or the next tech giants of the century.

I have no doubt famous names in architecture will still stand strong, but I do think the era of the ego is over – the Vitruvian man is over. And by that, I mean the individual celebration in architecture will be replaced by the power of collaboration. Working collaboratively and with mutual leverage meant I believe is the best way forward given the much greater market demand and expectation.  Our world as we know has never been so well-connected and accessible to any information with only a few clicks away. Clients are naturally better equipped these days and are all in need to be better-informed for the far greater market demands.

The advancement of autonomous technology and AI integrated software will only equip us to optimise all design boundaries and their challenges. Given the ever-changing  shifts of the way we live, work, and play, key factors for flexibility have already been stapled into many various organisations and forward-thinking enterprises to facilitate    such a growing variety of demands and agility requirements.

For instance, with an AI-powered smart speaker, we get news-updates on AI recommendations to serve as the central brain for your entire home. They are now able to  automate your tasks, coordinate your activities, manage all of your connected devices, and software that is now capable of studying your habits and playing the right music at the right time with the right dimmed light settings. Your fridge is now able to make orders for you should your milk run out, and robots are already helping around  household chores! Rooms can now be automated and changeable from bedrooms to working offices whilst you are getting ready for work-at-home routine. These capacities and intelligence are no longer theoretical, but they are already in our homes!  

What’s next in the world of Architecture? 

Design research feasibility studies, spatial demands, and structural requirements of building concepts and architectural designs have just leaped forward in such speed,  that what used to take days to develop, now only require minutes to attain. AI developments, software advancements, and data-driven architecture are now must-have tools for us architects.  Visual appraisal and presentations either eases imagination or permits escalating expectations.  The challenges ahead are enormous, but so are the possibilities. The bigger anomaly is to determine as to whether the challenges are from within our industry or if it is the wider spectrum of opportunities outside.  At present, from my immediate perspective I see architecture and our scope can be too occupied with ourselves when making big shifts let alone to make change. We are no doubt still intellectually driven coupled well with theoretical analogy and perhaps even academically recognised.  

In a rather smaller world as we know it, I would only remain humbled having now realised there are more urgent puzzles out there than just form and styles. Best of us may have already been battling to jump onto the “bandwagon”, whilst some may still remain distracted, I fear the change immediately and yet likely will be from outside of our industry.  But if I may add, this too shan’t be a statement of discouragement neither. I am sure we have all witnessed from just recent years, tech companies have already been on their elite levels to revolutionise other sectors that were highly insufficient, such as the mobility and in particular the transportation industry all over the world.  

For years with what seems an endless effort, much of the innovations in these sectors were stagnated. Then came along Uber, Hyperloop, Tesla, and Google to bring change. There are still a lot of sectors in need for innovations, and endless possibilities when it comes to collecting data and even making a profit. This in my humble view is true too to architecture. Our sector is and I believe still has much more room for improvements and efficiency with an amazingly huge potential for innovation and profit.

“As architects, we are known as natural planners.  And therefore ought to continue to evolve, with the digital sector to generate newer opportunities for architectural thinkers, and as architects, we should be ready to embrace these prospects for growth in our industry.”  

As scary as it may seem, let us take on the responsibilities bestowed upon us and with the help of technology, we strive for a better, smarter, and much more prepared civilisation for the future of our children, and our children’s children.

Final thoughts?

The similarities of a pandemic virus on the loose causing an end to the world’s humanity just like in the movies, scares me too!   Like myself, you too may have come  across  a few.  One that comes to mind is “Inferno” by Tom Hanks; where Tom makes an investigation in his attempt to stop the villain and an extremist billionaire Zobrist with  his “11.59 Theory to save the world”.  His solution, unfortunately, was ending humanity with the spread of a pandemic virus attack.  Zobrist’s jaw-dropping presentation  before ending the world painted a dire picture, and I quote.  “If midnight represented the time when the Earth will reach its capacity for human life, we are currently at 11:59 for humanity, and there’s only a minute left before we cross the point of no return”. I am not merely suggesting a call for the end of the world shortfalls, nor would I be suggesting for Tom Hanks to save the world. But, it was a good movie! 

For how real this pandemic has been to us all, I can only express my utmost and immediate gratitude to all of our front liners, nurses, doctors, police, logistics,  shopkeepers, amongst other true heroes by their duties and responsibility in keeping this contagion contained. Without whom, we would all be standing at the mercy of a world pandemic at large; a world crossing that one last minute to midnight point of no return! Reality check and the world has been given a second chance, and for us all to make a better way forward. With this, I too shall not wait till midnight calls upon us.

God bless all and keep safe.   

By: Melvin Lim, Founder of MSP


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